French filmmaker Zoë Le Ber had a gem of a Paris kitchen, in the attic apartment of a 17th-century hôtel particulier, with envy-inducing features like original oak beams and floors with hexagonal terra-cotta tiles. So when she was ready to update it, she enlisted architect Sophie Dries to open up the small space and create a contemporary yet unpretentious design—all while preserving the apartment’s old bones.
To fit Zoë’s purist style, Sophie restored the original beams and tiles, then used raw, natural materials like birch plywood with a matte finish to modernize the kitchen. Pieces of art by Zoë’s artist friends and objects gathered from her travels fill the walls and shelves and pair with vintage finds and furniture designed by Sophie herself. The result is a personal, artful kitchen with an old soul. So very Parisian.
Kitchen location: Zoë’s kitchen is on the top floor of a grand French town house called Hôtel d’Aligre that was once owned by her family. Situated on rue de l’Université on the Left Bank, it is not far from where intellectuals like Jean-Paul Sartre and Carl Sagan roamed in the mid-20th century and is today filled with bookstores and antique shops.
The “before”: “The kitchen was a closed room, not open to the living area or the entrance, with no visible beams,” Zoë explains. “It seemed very narrow and dark—not a place one would want to spend time in.”
The inspiration: “I wanted minimal, pure lines and Japanese materials combined with wabi-sabi spirit from the existing oak beams and rediscovered floor,” says Zoë.
Square footage: 10 square meters (or 107 square feet)
Budget: €10,000 (or about $11,100)
Counters: Gray concrete
Floors: Sophie preserved the original 17th-century terra-cotta floors and restored them with a wax treatment.
Cabinets: Custom birch plywood finished with a transparent matte varnish from French brand Argile, with vintage brass and leather handles
Walls: Matte paint by Farrow & Ball
Appliances: Miele refrigerator, dishwasher, and microwave
Faucet: Vola brass faucet
Stools: Vintage by Finnish designer Olavi Hänninen
On the kitchen shelves: Black coffee cups by Thomas Vivant, a teapot by Mariage Frères, a brass spoon from Morocco, and a biscuit tin from Brittany, Zoë told Vogue.
Most insane splurge: The Miele appliances and Vola brass faucet rang in as the most expensive elements of the kitchen.
Sneakiest save: “The kitchen had great existing features,” says Zoë. Making the most of what she had—like maintaining the oval window, exposing the old wooden beams, and discovering space under the roof—helped save money. Zoë and Sophie also chose cheaper materials like plywood for the cabinets and concrete for the countertops rather than pricier options like solid wood and natural stone or marble.
The best part: “Now, I can cook in the kitchen and talk to my friends in the living area at the same time,” Zoë says. “The light flows between the two spaces that have become one.”
What I’d never do again: “Renovating is always an adventure, especially in old Parisian buildings,” explains Zoë. “Sometimes there are good surprises, and other times there are disillusions. We thought we could bleach the beams to make them much lighter, but the wood didn’t react as we thought it would. On the other hand, the floor was covered with a rug and years of glue, and we managed to restore the old parquet and terra-cotta tiles.”
Final bill: Pretty much exactly on budget: €10,000.
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest